What is croup?

Croup is a respiratory infection that affects children, mainly during the fall and winter months. It affects children under age five, and symptoms are most severe in children under age three. Croup may last from five to six days, depending on the severity of the infection. It may have other complications, such as ear infection or pneumonia.

Croup is most commonly caused by viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), measles, and adenovirus, but is occasionally caused by bacteria. This infection causes the upper airways to swell, making it difficult to breathe.

How can I tell if my child has croup?

Although there are recognizable signs of croup, any illness that makes it difficult for your child to breathe should be evaluated by your child's doctor.

What are the symptoms of croup?

  • A harsh or "barky" cough
  • Stridor (harsh, raspy vibrating sound when breathing in)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty bending the neck
  • High fever
  • Restlessness or nervousness at night or when it becomes harder to breathe

If my child has croup, how can I care for him or her at home?

  • Do not allow anyone to smoke around your child or in your home.
  • Give your child all medicines as instructed by the doctor.
  • A cool mist vaporizer may help soothe dry and irritated airways. Your doctor may recommend a vaporizer.
  • Allow your child to rest as needed.
  • Call the doctor if your child's symptoms worsen or begin to return.
  • Cough medicines are usually not helpful.

When a child has a severe case of croup and has to go to the hospital, care may include the following:

  • Breathing treatments (aerosols)
  • A cool mist tent
  • Rest
  • Medications given by mouth
  • Medications given intravenously (IV)
  • Medications given by injection (shot)

How can the spread of croup be prevented?

Croup can by spread by physical contact or through the air. To help prevent its spread:

  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly after caring for your child.
  • Try washing toys between each use.
  • Encourage your child to cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
  • Keep your child home from school or daycare when she is ill or if outbreaks occur.
  • Throw used tissues away.

Questions to ask your child's doctor about croup

  • Should I give my child medication? If so, for how long and at what times of the day?
  • How should I store the medication? Should I refrigerate it?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • Will I need to bring my child back for a follow-up visit?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or daycare?
  • Should he or she be limited from certain activities? If so, which ones?
  • Are there certain foods or liquids he or she should have or avoid?
  • Which over-the-counter pain relievers do you recommend?
  • Which over-the-counter medications/preparations do you not recommend?
  • Which symptoms should I report to you/your office?


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/10/2015...#8277